A gorget originally was a steel collar designed to protect the throat. It was a feature of older types of armour and intended to protect against swords and other non-projectile weapons . Later, particularly from the 18th century onwards, the gorget became primarily ornamental, serving only as a symbolic accessory on military uniforms.
Most Medieval versions of gorgets were simple neck protectors that were worn under the breastplate and backplate set. These neck plates supported the weight of the armour worn over it, and many were equipped with straps for attaching the heavier armour plates.
Later, Renaissance gorgets were not worn with a breastplate but instead were worn over the clothing. Most gorgets of this period were beautifully etched, gilt, engraved, chased, embossed, or enamelled and probably very expensive. Gorgets were the last form of armour worn on the battlefield.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, crescent-shaped gorgets of silver or silver gilt were worn by officers in most European armies, both as a badge of rank and an indication that they were on duty. These last survivals of armour were much smaller (usually about three to four inches in width) than their Medieval predecessors and were suspended by chains or ribbons. In the British service they carried the Royal coat of arms until 1796 and thereafter the Royal cypher.
Gorgets ceased to be worn by British army officers in 1830, and by their French counterparts 20 years later. They were still worn to a limited extent in the Imperial German Army until 1914, as a special distinction by officers of the Prussian Garde du Corps and the Queen's Cuirassier Regiment No 2. Officers of the Spanish infantry continued to wear gorgets with the cypher of King Alfonso XIII in full dress until the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1931. Mexican Federal army officers also wore the gorget with the badge of their branch in their combat and dress uniforms until 1947. However the Mexican army's new 2010 model dress uniforms are to re-incorporate the gorgets. The gorget was revived as a uniform accessory during Germany's Third Reich, seeing widespread use within the German military and Nazi party organizations. During World War II, it continued to be used by German military and field police, which wore metal gorgets as emblems of authority. German police gorgets of this period typically were flat metal crescents with ornamental designs that were suspended by a chain worn around the neck. Following the German example, the Finnish Defence Forces still use a metal gorget as a distinguishing mark of the duty conscript of a company, and the highly prussianised Chilean army still use the German style metal gorget in parades and in the uniform of their own Military Police.
The scarlet patches still worn on each side of the collar of the tunics of British army generals, and of senior staff officers (in red, blue, crimson, yellow, or green according to branch) are called "gorget patches" in reference to this article of armour. RAF officer cadets wear white gorget patches on their service dress and mess-dress uniforms. Very similar collar patches are worn by British army officer cadets at Sandhurst on the standup collars of their dark-blue "Number One" dress uniforms. These features of modern uniforms are a residual survival from the earlier practice of suspending the actual gorgets from ribbons attached to buttons on both collars of the uniform. Such buttons were often mounted on a patch of coloured cloth or gold embroidery.
The term also refers to a broad patch of metallic-looking iridescent feathers on the throats of many male hummingbirds.